In every cell , there are structures called DNA-RNA , which contain the genetic information of the living thing—consisting of helically arranged amino acids that govern vital events .
Mutations are permanent changes that occur in the RNA-DNA sequences of an organism’s genetic makeup. The mutated organism is called a mutant or variant. This change in small parts of the genetic structure can change the protein, enzyme and even the physical structure of the living thing, and create new species. Mutations occur in the genetic structures of viruses for a shorter time and more frequently than other microorganisms. These mutations are usually changes in the protruding proteins (spike protein = spike protein) that viruses use to attach themselves to cells.
Since it is a Corona RNA virus, it mutates frequently…
Viruses enter living cells and multiply excessively there. While millions or even billions of new generation viruses are formed in a short time, some changes occur naturally as a result of faulty reproduction at the genetic level. Some substances in the environment can further increase the rate of mutations. More mutations occur in RNA viruses than in DNA viruses. Corona is an RNA virus so it mutates more often.
Some of the mutations are simple changes. The repair of these simple changes in the genetic structure can be easily repaired within a few generations. On the other hand, further changes cause significant defects in genetic materials and the emergence of mutant viruses with different characteristics compared to the original viruses. These mutations result from radical and irreparable changes in the basic nature of nucleic acids. Sometimes, defective viruses, which are formed as a result of such genetic mutations, stop their reproduction and gradually disappear, and sometimes they can become excessively reproducing and causing excessive damage to the host cells and organs in which they settle. They can cause the death of the living things they inhabit. It can become resistant to antiviral drugs and vaccines.
‘Mutant Corona Viruses’ Worrying the World
It is normal and expected for virologists and the scientific community that viruses mutate frequently. The virus undergoes many changes as it enters each cell and begins to multiply. However, most of them do not change their virus characteristics and return to normal again. Changes that will increase the virus structure, contagiousness and risk of severe disease may seriously increase the possibility of permanent mutations.
The mutant virus was first detected in the south of England on 21 September. By mid-November, this variant was detected in 28 percent of cases in that region, and in 62 percent on December 9th.
With the statement made by the University of London College in England on 19 December, 17 genetic changes have occurred in the mutant virus, including the spike protein it clings to in human cells, and that it can more easily bind to ACE2 receptors on the outer surface of the lungs, arteries, heart, kidneys and intestines and enter the cell. announced. It has been revealed that if the air containing these virus particles is inhaled, it enters the cells in the respiratory tract and lungs, transforming them into virus factories, increasing the virus load of the people and increasing the possibility of transmission.
It was determined that about 11 out of every 100 people who were in contact with someone infected with the original virus types were infected with the virus, while the rate with the mutant virus was 16 people out of 100.
According to the observations made so far, it is known that although this mutant virus does not cause a severe disease and there is no significant increase in hospitalization or death rates, its high contagiousness will further increase the effect and prevalence of the pandemic.
South African mutant
It was determined that much more physical changes occurred in the protein structure of the mutant virus determined in South Africa than the UK mutant. Since the resulting change affects a significant part of the spike protein that the corona virus uses to attach to cells, it is thought to be more dangerous than other mutants and a change that will reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
Two mutations of the Brazilian mutant Corona virus have been identified in Brazil. In a study conducted in the city of Manaus, these mutations were detected in 42 percent of the samples. In Japan, the same variant was found in 4 people from Brazil. Concerns were raised when it was seen that this mutant virus was causing an increase in contagiousness and making people who have had Covid-19 become sick again.
It is thought that the severity of the disease may be quite high due to a special amino acid change in South African and Brazilian mutations and the rate of needing hospital and intensive care may increase in the coming period.
California, Germany, Nigeria mutants
A new mutation has been identified in the state of California, but the extent to which this mutation increases disease risks is still under investigation.
A new mutation identified in 35 hospitals in the German state of Bavaria is different from the new strains in England, South Africa and Brazil, but whether this mutation will be important and whether it is more contagious than previous variants of the virus is being examined.
The mutant virus detected in Nigeria is thought to be different from the UK and South African mutants and not as contagious as they are.
The UK’s first detection of the mutation is because it has implemented a strong viral monitoring programme. It analyzes the genetic sequences of 10 percent of all cases and is able to detect any changes. A large number of new mutations will be identified as similar program applications and mutational researches increase in all countries. This will pave the way for more accurate decisions regarding both vaccines and precautions.
How does the mutation affect vaccines?
The announcement that the coronavirus mutated in the UK and spread 50-70% faster, created curiosity, concern and uneasiness all over the world. For now, we do not know exactly to what extent the mutant virus will affect the clinic, severity, risk groups and vaccines of the disease. It is thought that immunity to be created by vaccines will be weaker due to a special amino acid change, especially in South African and Brazilian mutations.
How much the effectiveness of existing vaccines against the virus will decrease and what to do to prevent it have become the subjects of greatest interest to both scientists and country administrators.
The antigens in all vaccines are derived from the Wuhan virus. The antibodies formed in the body with the vaccine are also specific to this virus. The information that these currently applied vaccines will not be affected by the current mutations is more intense. However, it is thought that with the continued accumulation of mutations, vaccines may become less and less effective. This problem will force vaccine developers to adapt and produce vaccines against new versions of the virus.
Inactivated virus vaccine can produce a broader antibody response because it contains the entire viral protein set. It can be said that this type of vaccine is the vaccine group that is less affected by mutations, since it is a known technology and contains different viral proteins that increase the antibody response.
Although it is thought that mRNA vaccines may have less effect on mutant viruses, they are easy to prepare and produce against newly formed virus.
In addition to dozens of vaccines used against the new type of coronavirus, hundreds of vaccine studies are still ongoing. Although mutations slow down these studies, it is important for the future to develop vaccines against mutant viruses.
Virologists state that even if it has mutated, it can be produced and used with licenses renewed every year with minor changes made to the vaccine.
Precautions to be taken in mutant viruses
Compliance with public health measures such as correct mask use, physical distancing, compliance with hand hygiene rules, not being with many people indoors for more than 15 minutes, and postponing unnecessary travel is more important than ever.
Testing on entry to the country, especially after entry from risky countries, additional quarantine, retesting and searching for negativity.
Restriction or strict monitoring of intercity transportation, especially for provinces where variants are detected, and establishment of systems that will enable early detection of possible changes.
Being extremely cautious about easing the restriction measures in place due to the fact that the vaccination and immunity rates in the society are not yet at a sufficient level.
Strengthening existing laboratory and testing capacities, adapting them to the requirements for more intensive research of mutants.
The situation that should not be forgotten; The emergence of new mutant viruses in this pandemic is much more important and vital for all of us to take public health measures such as cleaning, physical distance and masks, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or have the disease.
The pandemic we are experiencing has shown that at least it is necessary to reconstruct the national and international epidemic disease system with all its components. In order to cope with the pandemics that may come later, it has become a necessity to increase the trained people, infrastructure and research and development opportunities, and to organize the society and the health system in order to be faster-effective.